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Top 45 Best Things To Do With An Old PC *(26 + 19)

If you're looking for some great things to do with an old or spare PC, then this list is for you. I used to have a website, with lots of PC / computer content on there. One article was 26 things to do with an old 486 PC. Some may still be relevant, but I've decided to list some of the new, interesting, fun, and more modern ideas first.

Remember the AMD Athlon XP?

Things to do with an old(ish) PC:

1 - Run as an old PC/Dos/Windows Gaming Machine

If you're hardcore you may be able to find a 3dfx Voodoo graphics card to play all the old school 3D games. You could use DOSBox to run a DOS emulator on your PC, or alternatively you can start from the beginning and install MS-DOS, and then Windows 95 on top.

2 - Run as an arcade machine / emulator - MAME etc

Get MAME and you can emulate an old arcade machine to play original arcade games. Remember GoldenAxe on the Amiga and Atari ST? Well, image it a whole lot better, with the original arcade version. Here's a quick (17min) video guide on how to setup MAME

3 - Run as a games console emulator

Pick a console, any console, and you'll most likely be able to find an emulator for it. Here's some of the more popular ones, with a list of 10 emulators, on hongkiat. You could even search out some of the more obscure emulators, such as an Atari Jaguar emulator!

4 - Setup your own webserver 

Got a decent broadband connection? You could setup your own webserver. It's almost free (assuming you don't mind the electricity bills), and you can have huge amounts of storage simply by adding a huge hard drive to it. Here's a good set of instructions on how to setup a Linux webserver.

5 - Setup NAS / Home file share - aka Network Attached Storage

Got a bunch of old hard drives lying around and/or want somewhere for additional storage and backup? See FreeNAS for free software, although the system requirements are quite high, so you could try something else like NAS4Free, which has a 32bit version.

Intel S775 system with re-used Tagan fan guard.

6 - Setup a game server

You could host Quake3 Arena games if you wanted. Or something much more modern.

7 - Learn the history of different Windows versions / Boot multiple Windows versions

Use EasyBCD to setup your PC so that you've got a choice of which Windows version you want to boot in to. Did you know that if you had Windows 98, you could copy the defrag tool from Windows Millenium and use it on Windows 98, and your defrag would be twice as fast.

8 - Turn your PC into a print server

Got an old, non-Wi-Fi, non-network connected printer? You could share your printer to the network by connecting it to your old PC, and connecting your PC to the network. This is simplest if your PC is running Windows as you can quick quickly and easily share your printer so the network can access it. Quick easy guide for Windows 7.

9 - Set it up as a "media centre" / living room PC

If you don't have a smart TV, but still want to watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Now TV, iPlayer and other on-line streaming sites (like YouTube), then why not setup your old PC and use it for all sorts of media playback? You can make it silent if it's not already, by replacing noisy fans. If you're PC already runs Windows and works well enough to stream Netflix and YouTube, then you shouldn't have any problems. If your graphics card has an HDMI out port, then it should be as simple as connecting to your computer to your TV.

10 - Use it as an experimental PC

If you're trying to run some old software, or want to try and install some random software from the distant past, then you might want a blank PC, which you can experiment with. Install Windows, make a backup or clone of it (AOMEI backupper is free), and once you've finished experimenting you can reset it back to normal, and start again.

11 - Use it as a test PC - build a Test Bed

Kind of 10 and 12 mixed together, but if you're regularly dealing with old computer parts, testing, and repairing PCs, then a test bed PC, that is easy to access may be just what you need.

Via: MakeUseof.

12 - Learn how to build PCs

Take apart your old PC, learn how to fix it if it's broken, and work out what does and doesn't work, and you could save some money by re-using components in a new computer build. There's a quick and easy to follow guide on Wiki-How.

13 - Use it as a remote music player

Setup your computer as a music player, set it up next to your amplifier and speakers, and you could remotely control it from your smartphone. CNET has full details on how to do this, using Winamp.

14 - Donate it to charity

There are a number of charities that would benefit from a working computer. Search your local area to see if you can find any in need of a computer or laptop.

AMD K6-2 500MHz "Super" Socket 7 System. Real Old.

15 - Build a "Hackintosh" - Run Mac OS on your PC

Want to play with a Mac, but don't fancy the price, or don't want to spend money and then decide it isn't for you? How about setting up a "Hackintosh" so that you can run Mac OS on your PC. You'll find a guide on the aptly named:

16 - Home Security System (camera monitoring). 

Use your PC or laptop, and a webcam, to setup a home security system, so that you can monitor your home from anywhere. This idea via thesimpledollar, with more information available here.

17 - Setup a guest computer (assuming you have guests)

Pretty self-explanatory, but you might want to limit what's on there, limit access to installing apps, or you might want to install Linux so that you don't have to pay for a Windows licence.

18 - Setup a kitchen computer 

Spend a lot of time in the kitchen? You could setup a kitchen computer. (or just take your laptop in to the kitchen)

19 - Make it faster

If you're considering getting a new computer, or getting rid of your old computer, is it really too slow? Or could you try making it faster? Perhaps with some TLC it could be useful and usable again. Here's a guide to making your computer faster.

Things to do with a really old PC:

Okay, so I had come to the point where I no-longer had any use for my Tulip 486 PC so I decided to look on the internet for "Fun things to do with a 486" web pages, but unfortunately couldn't find any! So I decided to collate a whole heap of suggestions from friends, magazines and the internet to make this page, so that in the future if I ever need to find any fun things to do with a 486 / PC, I can always look at this!

For the more difficult and interesting ideas, I will add additional pages of information, or links to other peoples pages on the internet. Here's how it's arranged... 

First is the title of the thing to do. Then the Difficulty out of Ten, 1 being easy and 10 being too difficult even for me. Cost is how much it costs, say if there is anything you need to buy, and the american equivalent is worked out by using the current conversion rate (1.65 at present - lol!). Who it was suggested by is self-explanatory, and thanks to all those that have emailed me ideas! Next is the main description, and then finally, if that wasn't enough there is the Additional Info section, which will either have a link to someone else web site, or a page I have created, or a page someone has created for me. (LINKS may no longer work)

Also, if you have any suggestions that we have not covered here then please email me, or leave a comment. Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Apologies for the formatting - it's included to give a glimpse of the articles original format.

1. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Give it to a Friend2/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
To do this all you have to do is find a friend who does not already have a PC and give it to them and then they can use it to do Word Processing or whatever it is set up to do, with Windows 3.1 and some kind of Word Processor on, as the most popular thing to use it for. Advantages are that you feel all warm and good inside. Disadvantages are that you could have done thing no. 2!
Additional Info.None

2. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Sell it for X amount of money.2/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
To do this you can place an adds in local shops, in magazines, on the internet, or just try selling by word of mouth. Advantages of this are that you can get some dosh so you can go buy heaps of your favourite CDs from shops, or even better spend more money on your other PCs, or a new PC. Disadvantages, you feel bad if what your selling is a heap of junk!
Additional Info.None

3. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Glue it to a pavement!1/10£2 / $3Oliver Whitehead
To do this, go buy some really strong glue, take your 486 outside and glue it to the pavement, and watch people come and try to pick it up, it might also be fun to video them! Advantages are : funny - disadvantages : dangerous and they might manage to steal it from you!
Additional Info.None

4. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Sell it as a Network Workstation7/10£? / $?Steven Hill
Quite a tricky one this, but it could reap rewards far in excess of that from just doing No. 2. Ste says, "Find some dodgy low-level company, that uses some Dos based accounting system, slap in an old ISA network card, forget selling as a computer, call it a network workstation." I guess this wouldn't be too difficult, but would require convincing some company that it's the best thing since sliced bread, and installing some Windows based accounting package. Advantages : might work! Disadvantages : if you give them your phone number they'll ring you up everyweek saying it's stopped working! But since you sold them a 1 year technical support contract, for heaps of cash, you don't mind!
Additional Info.None

5. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Set it up as a TV/CD Player5/10£? / $?Joshua Waller
Okay, to do this, it would definitely be easier if you had a 486 with PCI slots! But the idea is to buy a second hand TV card for it that will go in an ISA slot, and providing that works okay and doesn't mind that you've only got 4mb ram, you can put it in a spare room, with it's CD-rom that comes with it, and watch TV, and play CDs on it. You'll need to get the sound card to work though! (if it doesn't already see 6.) I think this is gonna be the future of most old PCs, especially when we've given all the other old PCs to third world countries and stuff, so that no-one wants anymore old PCs!
Additional Info.Try Loot / ebay for Second hand TV card

6. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Get sound card in it to work.5/10£10 / $13Joshua Waller
In principal, once you have identified what the soundcard is, ie. by looking at it, you can go onto the internet and download the relevant drivers for it, then put them on a disk and install on 486. Okay, that's the principal, does it work? No! Why? Because it's slightly the wrong driver because the sound card in your machine was made by some unknown company that decided to do it a bit different to make it cheaper! So how do I get my sound-card to work then? Answer : You take it out of your 486 and put it in a machine with Windows 95/98 on, and then that will get it working for you. See 7. for more details. I actually did try getting it to work in the 486, but couldn't, doh! So what you're left with, if you do want sound in your 486, is the fact that you'll have to buy another sound card!
Additional Info.UK Supplier you can buy a sound card from.

7. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Take bits out to put in new PC.4/10£0 / $0Joshua Waller
Things you can save from any PC, from about 386 up. The floppy drive (assuming HD version), Mouse (assuming it's not crap!!), Sound Card (assuming it's going in a Win 95/98 machine!), power cables. And the rest is totally debatable, for example, you could take out the 170mb hard drive and put it in your new machine, but next to an 8Gb hard drive, is it really worth bothering with? If you're in the situation where-by you are thinking about this because you are gonna' build your own machine, then you don't need me to explain how to do it, do you? And if you're not in a situation where you can build your own machine, then I doubt you'll be able to convince Compaq to wait for you to send them your floppy drive, before building the machine for you!!
Additional Info.None.

8. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Space Invaders Arcade Machine2/10£0 / $0Joshua Waller
Basically do this : Download Invaders 78, from the Additional Info section, unzip it, and put it on your 486, and then run it! It's fun. If you are serious about this idea, then you can edit the autoexec.bat and make it autoload on switch on. To do this, say you've put the program inv78.exe into C:\inv78\ yeah? Edit the autoexec.bat and add this line to it "C:\inv78\inv78.exe" and thats it! Disadvantages are that you'll probably get bored of the game after a while, but you can always press escape and quit out of it!
Additional Info.Click here to download Inv 78

9. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Fax Machine for your Dad5/10£30 / $49Murray Grant
Murray says : "I set a 486 up for my dad's business as a fax machine running win3.1. Its more stable than most win9x machines i know of. Usually gets rebooted about once a month." This sounds like a good idea, would require a modem, and may not even need you to get connected to the internet, as the modem might come with the right fax software. I will discuss getting connected to the internet (on a 4mb machine!!) elsewhere. Assuming that goes well then this should be no problem.
Additional Info.See no. 20 About Internet

10. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Run MIDI software on it...3/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
Phil says it's "not very demanding in theory", but in this case would require us to do No. 6. But anyway, assuming you've got a working sound card in there with the correct drivers installed then all you need to do is install some software such as Cubase something, which you got free on a Cover Disc. Advantages : Lets you do midi composing on. Disadvantages : It's not an Atari ST, and not very useful if you don't want to do midi composing!
Additional Info.Wanna know about the Atari?

11. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Run RC5 Cracking Software...4/10£0 / $0Joshua Waller
Okay, all you need to do it explained on a page I will link to. So what I will do here, is a quite explanation to explain the background. There's a big powerful encryption been made and through all these computers working on cracking it, each taking a different bit, one day, it'll finally be cracked. There are individuals working on it, and there are individuals in teams working on it, it's like a community thing, well if you join a team. The team I have linked to below will give you details about how to set it up, and are cool. I couldn't actually manage to do this on my 486, I downloaded the program on my Internet machine and then copied the program over to my 486 and it wouldn't work properly - so good luck! If you have Windows 95/98 or a working internet connection then you'll probably find it a whole heap easier!
Update! I downloaded the DOS software for my 486 and now it's cracking the keys! What I do is get a certain number of "RC5 Blocks" (50 for the 486, 500 for my Celeron 450a, 100 for Cyrix pr300 m2) and copy them on to a disk and take them over to the machine that I want to run them on, and leave it to run for about a week, then copy back onto disk and then upload the blocks to the server ( port:2064). I don't do this for the Cyrix though, coz' it's connected to the internet, and just gets on with it :o).
Additional Info.RC5 Hardware Network!

12. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Leave it to slowly rust in the corner.0/10£0 / $0Joshua Waller
This has to be the easiest thing to do, and especially likely if you've got other, better computers. All you need to do is leave it somewhere in your house, don't touch it, in fact, don't do anything. Good if you can't be bothered trying to sell it or trying to give it away, because that involves far too much effort, and would actually mean you might have to leave the house where you might get run over. So this is probably the safest thing to do out of all of them!
Additional Info.None.

13. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Find out how many fps in DOOM3/10£0 / $0General Lee D. Mented
fps means, Frames Per Second. People do this so they can say hey my "such and such" must be better than your "such and such" because in "such and such a program" I am getting "such and such amount of fps" more than you! To do this you'll need to either download Doom or install it from a CD-ROM (assuming your CD-ROM drive still works). Once the program is installed, go to MS-DOS mode, run the program and set the screen size to full, then exit and type "DOOM -nosound -timedemo demo1", when you get back to DOS, there will be two numbers, gametics, and realtics. To work out the fps, use the formula (GAMETICS/REALTICS) * 35.
(My p450a/Banshee got 108.8fps, whereas my 486 got 14.9fps) (I finally found out how to do it from the FAQ, but I'm sure aceshardware's message board will have also told me too, coz' I asked there as well)
Additional Info.ID Software - You can get Doom here.

14. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Paint it a silly colour and...4/10£2 / $3Phil Hackett
Paint it a silly colour and tell everyone it's a new supercomputer! Okay to do this I would recommend taking the case off and then in a well ventilated area, spray with spray paint of your choice and colour, car spray paint is always quite cheap and often works well. Advantages are that you will have (or could have) a really cool colour computer. Disadvantages are that only really really not very intelligent people will believe you when you tell them, and most will not believe you, and then if they do, they will ask you what it does, or ask you to prove your claims, and unfortunately I just don't think Windows 3.1 will convince them!
Additional Info.None.

15. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Run SETI@HOME on it!3/10£0 / $0Bill J
Like RC5 Cracking, this is a joint thing for people to do, which involves the search for E.T.s in outer space, (e.g. Aliens), by monitoring Data from the people who collect data about space. There is much more information at this web page, in the Additional Info box... as I don't know much about it. Bill J says he has 3 486s running it, so it must be cool.
Additional Info.SETI@HOME

16. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Run Linux on it!4/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
Sorry for all these "Run Software on it" ideas! But here's probably on of the best ones, but it could be quite tricky, Phil says "Run Linux on it (Linux is an efficient operating system and will probably cope quite well)".
The other day I stumbled upon a really cool web site, that had instructions on how to install a distribution of "Monkey-Linux" and it actually included the required spec! It was a 4mb 386, so I thought I'd give it a go, and installed Linux onto my 486! See the Monkey-Linux link below! (ps - it looks just like Win95, and if you try and run anything it's just as slow!!)
Additional Info.The Linux Home Page at Linux Online
Greg Roelofs : Linux
Linux -- Free For All
Monkey Linux - English!
Converting PC into X11 Terminals

17. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
486 as host machine / Home LAN4/10£5 / $8Jack
I like this idea, this sounds like a good idea!
Jack says "One actual useful alternative would be to set it up to host additional peripherals and link it to your main machine, assuming maybe your main machine might not have enough IDE interfaces or whatever. Stuff like a CD changer, CD writer, ZIP drive, DVD, scanner, etc. My best machine has a HD, ZIP, Nakamichi changer, and DVD, thus it's IDEs are full up. I have to unplug the ZIP to connect an extra HD for Ghost, no place to put the CD writer. A link to an old 486 would do just fine for some stuff. I guess you are supposed to get an extra license for the second machine, although one might argue the postion that it was really one computer in two boxes."
One way to do this if your 486 can't run Windows 95/98, is to use Interlnk, (put "DEVICE=C:\DOS\INTERLNK.EXE" in config.sys of both machines, and to have 486 as server have "intersvr" in it's autoexec.bat, and "interlnk" in client's machine's autoexec.bat), you will need an Interlnk cable though, to use this method, but the cable can be used for Direct Cable Connection in Win95/98. Another way would be to have Network cards in there. (but I'm not gonna go into that, although, there is a web page about setting up a home network in the Additional Info. box!)
Additional Info.FS Guide to Setup a LAN
How to create a Home LAN

18. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Turn it into a spectrum...3/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
All you have to do is go to the web page in the additional information and download a Spectrum emulator, run it, and then load up some Spectrum software. Phil says "The Spectrum and SAM are still better machines than even the best PCs now". Hmmmm...
Additional Info.Speccy Emulators for the PC

19. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Smash / Destroy / Kick to death2/10£0 / $0Phil Hackett
Okay, this is better if you have a non-working machine, or one that works sometimes, and then after you doing 2 hours work on it it suddenly crashes and you can save your work! Disadvantages are, that you feel bad if it worked and you could have given it someone. If you do do this then please take some photos and email me!! There is a web page you can go to in the additional info box.
Phil says "Get pleasure from kicking and smashing it to death - after all it's popularity is responsible for the death of many-a-great machine (all greater than itself)" Here is another link for you from PCW May 99!
Additional Info.How to destroy your computer...
The illustrated Guide to breaking your Computer!

20. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Get on the internet man!4/10£30 / $49The World!!
Okay dokey! If you have an internet capable machine, i.e. something like a 486 with 8mb ram and some space on your hard drive, and an operating system that everyone supports such as Win 3.1 or newer, then all you need to do is buy a modem, either a PCI or ISA depending on your 486 and what's inside. ISA are black, PCI are normally white and shorter. Plug the modem into appropriate socket and install the software that came with it.
Once you've done that you'll need some internet software from an ISP (internet service provider), if you are in the UK, then see Virgin Net page in additinal info. where you can get disks appropriate for your machine.... If you are elsewhere, then it is quite likely that you can get the software from a PC magazine cover disk. Once you have installed the software, it should explain what you need to do to get conected, which (assuming you've got your modem connected to a phone line and your modem's installed correctly) should be really easy.
I havn't done this because I can't afford a modem, and my machine only has 4mb Ram, and everybody I've talked to says you need 8mb to run internet software. If you want a good browser that I know runs in only 4mb then try Opera Software (see Additional Info.) who have a really cool browser called Opera!
Additional Info.PC Gunk Links, where you can find shop!
Virgin Net's Free Internet Disks for UK
Get Opera from Opera Software

21. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Turn Monitor into Cool Fish Tank7/10£? / $?A Computer Magazine
This sounds dangerous!! But say your monitor doesn't work or is so dodgey you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy, you could try this. If you have tried this and would like to email me about it, then please do so!!! Email address is at bottom of page.
Additional Info.Dunno.

22. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Become Master Games Programmer8/10£? / $?Josh and Phil
Phil says you should run Delphi on it, but I don't know why, when you can run Pascal on it and learn to program really hot games on it that run in DOS. Take for example, the game Shute! (link in additional info.) that me and phil coded in Pascal! It rocks baby! There is even the pascal source code on the site so you have a start there!!
Additional Info.Shute!

23. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Turn the damn thing into a bookshelf!5/10£? / $?Matt Waller
Okay, actually, what I mean is as Matt puts it... "Add a CD player and record a big disk of 1000 books, and then call it a 'library shelf'. You'd need to put a very simple menu onto it too" And he suggests that after saying... "Project guthenberg is a big bunch of books that people have typed in, available from: [see additional info. box.]" So there you go! I don't know whether we are expected to put the books on the CD ourselves or whether someone has already compiled them or not, if you know, let me know, but it sounds like a good idea!
Update! Matt says " You can also access shakespear from the same address if you remove the 'guthenberg' bit of the web address... (see shakespear link...) In OBI there's tonnes of stuff. (but needs unzipping!) In Shakespeare there's his stuff, and in the other one there's bits about the constitution" so check it out - it can be a Shakespear server for your kids!
Project Gutenberg Mirror Site
Shakespear Section

24. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Use as an INTERNET GATEWAY!5/10£? / $?Vipin Malik
I'll let Vipin explain...
"Well I didn't see this on your web page, but this is how I am using my old 486 (DX2-66) with 16megs of ram and the original hard drive that came with it (340meg!). I put in an old 3COM 3C509 card (ISA), put it on my lan, put in an ISA modem, installed Linux 2.2.1 (or any other will do too) on it, set up IP Masquerading on it and NOW USE IT AS AN INTERNET GATEWAY to share my single ISP account with all my other computers on my home LAN simultaneously! Whenever any one computer on the home LAN (I have 3 connected though a dymp hub) wants internet access it can (but I use telnet to manually) automatically dial to the ISP and disconnect after an idle timeout. This way I can keep tinkering with my PC (overclocking it, rebooting between Windows and Linux etc.) and my wife can surf the internet from her PC without bothering about the state of my PC. Actually you could list this as a potential use for an old 386 that someone may have lying around. Plenty of power for the job! All you need is about 50meg hard drive and 8 meg RAM with a couple of ISA slots. My 486 purchase is still paying off :)"
Thanks for the suggestion Vipin! Uffe has set his home Lan up to do the same thing using some software called Sygate, I have included a link below. I don't know how to do the idea above, but start by having a look at number 16 which will tell you a bit about how to install Linux.
Additional Info.Sygate

25. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Take it to school!6/10£? / $?Uffe Merrild
This one's gotta take some guts!! Uffe says...
"Take your PC to school... But you have to make them believe that you don't care about the thing... Just take your mobo and cpu... not the whole thing.... Non-neards will think you are a fanatic, and when they ask 'What is this part??' Then you can take some credit for something.... and get some attention."
Additional Info.None.

26. Thing to DoDifficultyCostSuggested By
Turn it into Jewels6/10£? / $?PCW May 99
It says... "Get a jump on the fashion victims and make a statement with eye-catching chip earrings or monogrammed cufflinks made out of keys" ...this is a good thing to do with all those heavy old Intel 386dx chips :o) you have lying around, or any other chips that have died on you! I don't think I'll bother personally though!
Additional Info.None.


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